If Beau Dure had waited until today to release "Long Range Goals," the last sentence would read "On August 30, 2010, it was announced that Adidas renewed their sponsorship with Major League Soccer, in a deal that will run through 2018 and is worth two hundred million - that's right, two hundred god-damned million American god-damned dollars. And everyone lived happily ever after. The end."
Assuming the United States is chosen to host the World Cup in 2022, we can pretty much guarantee MLS another twelve years of life. I think today we finally passed the point where if Phil Anschutz sees the Galaxy stink up the HDC again and says "Screw this," the league would fold.
It was fairly obvious before, but now it's undeniable. In March 2014, barring a meteorite strike, Dalek invasion, or the Mayas being depressingly correct about their calendar dating rationale, MLS will start its nineteenth season. That will make MLS the longest running first division professional soccer league in American history. The doubters were wrong. The believers were right.
Beau Dure's book, "Long Range Goals," is the history of the league before Monday.
Having said all this, no one who gets very far into the book will conclude that MLS was destined for popularity, or that its leaders were necessarily canny visionaries. One might in fact conclude - Dure doesn't - that decades of American soccer history, most specifically the NASL run and the slow, grinding rise of the US national team in the 1990's, built a foundation of support for the sport that even a league as hell-bent on self-immolation as MLS could manage to eke out a precarious existence.
To paraphrase David Byrne, this is not my beautiful league. How did we get here? My God! What have we done?
The vast majority of the book takes place off the field, which makes sense - the vast majority of whether a league lives or dies is decided off the field. Beau doesn't torture the reader with a lot of numbers, mostly because MLS would cheerfully have killed him rather than provide those figures. He also doesn't lapse into business speak, being merely content to quote it for comedy purposes.
The action starts with a brutal conflict of interest - USSF President Alan I. Rothenberg deciding whether the APSL would get Division I status over two vapor leagues, one of which would eventually name its trophy after Alan I. Rothenberg. Had MLS flopped, the courtroom battles that would have followed would have made the Soccer Wars of the 1920's seem downright chummy.
Dure has extensive interviews with personnel around at the time - most illuminatingly from Doug Logan, who doesn't come across as that self-serving. (Although - yeah, sure, Doug Logan was a rules purist, and was helpless against abominations like the shootout and the countdown clock. That's why they lasted four entire seasons.)
And he spends a lot more time on the infamous players' lawsuit than he does on - well, on all the games the league has ever played, practically. (Although he does spend a page or two on a hilarious 6-4 Crew-Wizards game from 1996.) Which is understandable, because the lawsuit showed so much about what the league was facing. Mark Semioli's presence in the book is indispensable here - not only for his insight in to the early days of the league, but because he's the only one who will even half-heartedly defend that lawsuit. Dure gives him even more space than he gives to League One America's Jim Paglia, but Semioli isn't crazy. (Come to think of it, maybe the book should have had more Paglia.)
The target audience of this book can relive a lot of amusing anecdotes that didn't necessarily risk the future of the sport, but were fairly aggravating at the time. Bet you haven't thought of Paulina Rubio in a while.
And then there's Sunil Gulati renewing Tab Ramos' Metrostars contract, over the objections of the Metrostars. Boy, Sunil sure loves to renew contracts.
But if you want to read about League One America, buy his book. I'm not going to give it away for you.
The other really interesting part of the book is the end, where Beau details the challenges the league still faces. The quick list:
1. Getting everyone a stadium, specifically Houston, San Jose and DC United.
2. Finding its audience.
3. Finding a playoff system that doesn't irritate more people than it attracts.
4. Avoiding labor stoppages.
5. Increasing talent.
6. Competing with other American sports.
7. Getting more money from broadcasters and sponsors.
I'm sure we'll all have plenty of time to discuss all of those, but it's worth it to read what Beau has to say. Even if you don't agree with his conclusions - for example, MLS could go ten thousand years and not need a single table, and promotion and relegation doesn't even deserve the cursory mention Beau gives it. But reasonable minds can differ.
In the end, Dure concludes that the league is doomed, and we're all better off giving up and becoming baseball fans.
No, obviously, the league has achieved what Beau calls "the miracle of stability." There are and will continue to be the little apocalypses that, if left unchecked, will mean the end of soccer in this country - at least, if you believe what you read. Hey, remember back in March, when we all thought there would be a labor stoppage and the league would undoubtedly fold as a result? Of course you don't.
Do Amazon links still show up automagically on these blogs? Let's find out.
[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Long-Range-Goals-Success-League-Soccer/dp/1597975095/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1283318626&sr=1-1"]Amazon.com: Long-Range Goals: The Success Story of Major League Soccer (9781597975094): Beau Dure: Books[/ame]
Oh, speaking of soccer history, it looks like we finally got Roger Allaway blogging!